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Providence, R.I. – With 18 seconds left on the clock in a tight game that had gone back-and-forth for the entire 60 minutes, Harvard men’s lacrosse head coach Gerry Byrne called a timeout to draw one last play to tie the game and send his Crimson squad into an overtime battle against the Brown Bears.
The tension in the crowd was palpable as sophomore attackman Sam King resumed play on the right wing, made a shifty move down the right side as sophomore middie Miles Botkiss set a pick for him, and hit a flying first-year attacker Teddy Malone cutting around the left side of the crease. Malone found time and space on the doorstep with the clever play, and was able to bury the ball as the defense looked to rotate to slide to the dodging force of King. The play was strategic because it drew up several options for the offensive trio: King could drive if the pick gave him room and none of the defenders slid, Cheek could pop off of the pick for a give-and-go in the middle of the fan, or the move could free up King to take advantage of the frantic defenders.
“Coach Hutchinson drew up a great play, and Sam gave me a great ball. I had the easy job. Sam made the play happen,” said Malone of his late game-tying goal.
Despite the Crimson holding the lead for almost the entirety of the game, Brown was able to even the score and then take the lead with less than two minutes left to play. Individual efforts by Brown sophomore attackman Aidan McLane, who put up seven goals, and Brown sophomore attackman Matteo Corsi, who tallied three goals and an assist, kept the Bears nipping at Harvard’s heels. McLane was the standout player from the Brown squad, and along with junior goalie Connor Theriault, who tallied 16 saves, kept the teams neck-in-neck for all four quarters.
“[McLane’s] really talented, he’s really slippery, he’s both handed, we scouted him like that, and we just didn’t play one-on-one like we were supposed to. And, when we did collapse, the slide was just a little bit late,” first-year defender Charlie Muller said. “I was caught going to his strong-hand lefty, even though he has a really strong right hand; I gave him a foot of space and he got it in the net. We have to be a little bit better at guarding, and it’s something that we’ve been working on in practice.”
The game was much tighter than predicted, as Brown was missing seven senior contributors who are suspended until March 25th, a sentence that had been reduced from an initial April 7th blacklist. The seniors not dressed for the game were attackman Devon McLane, middies Logan Paff, Griffin King and Topher Bligh, SSDM Trevor Yeboah-Kodie and defensemen Oscar Hertz and Ben Palin.
The game marked the highly anticipated Ivy League opener for each program, with both teams only having faced non-conference opponents at this point in the campaign. Both the Crimson and the Bears were coming off of bad losses – Brown suffered a crippling defeat at the hands of powerhouse UNC 19-6 on the Tar Heels’ home turf, while Harvard blew a substantial lead against the University of Michigan and failed to recover.
“Taking that loss to Michigan gave us a little kick, and we all had to look at ourselves in the mirror this week and find little ways to get better, whether that’s on the ride, on defense, or on special teams in the middle of the field,” senior captain and middie Nick Loring commented.
The game mirrored the contest between the two squads last year, with Harvard triumphing by a single goal. Sitting out of this game was dynamic attackman Aidan McLane’s older brother, senior attacker Devon McLane, who, similarly to his brother, put up a decisive six points in the form of four goals and two assists in the 2022 matchup.
The Crimson had its most energetic start so far, with sophomore FOGO Andrew DeGennaro winning the faceoff and shifting possession down to the attack, where sophomore middie Owen Gaffney took advantage of the substitution game to snipe a cross-crease pass to senior attacker Hayden Cheek, who slipped into space amidst the chaos. After losing the second faceoff, Harvard showed its physicality and size on the defensive end, getting on the hands of the Brown attackers, holding them scoreless while running down the clock.
On the offensive end, the Crimson attack proved much more decisive, utilizing every inch of space the Brown defenders gave up. The attack settled down quickly and played with a maturity it lacked in previous matchups this season. The young team was able to capitalize when it needed to, overcoming nerves in critical moments. Malone’s goal to send the team into overtime was a prime example of this.
“We worked on zone all week because we anticipated that we were going to get zoned, and I think that we just took smart shots, moved the ball well, made smart decisions, got everyone involved, and I think that was the reason for our success today,” Malone said.
Despite the win, the Crimson has areas to improve on before its game against Boston University on Tuesday. On the defensive side, one-on-one matchups was something that the team still needed to work on, and Brown was able to take advantage of this weakness in its sets.
“Coming into this game, we knew they were going to do a lot of inside action, and that they had a bunch of really talented guys. We saw that and we had to make on the fly adjustments to sliding to guys a little bit earlier, but overall we didn’t do the greatest job in our core principle of sliding and recovering,” said Muller. “We constantly had a two-on-one inside with both of our guys when x-cuts were coming because we were loosening up the slide which was needed, but we didn’t have a recovery in the right spot. So, it was nice to get the win - we got two stops when we needed them - but, overall we needed to do a little bit better.”
Those defensive stops were essential to the Crimson’s success in sudden death overtime. After Malone’s goal to tie the game with 13 seconds left in regular time, the clock expired, and so each team had time to regroup before a faceoff. Harvard lost this initial face off, and thus started overtime playing defense. Winning possession on the faceoff was, similar to the Michigan game, an area the team needed to improve on, as the Crimson only secured 35% of all takes.
Despite this, the defense was able to get the ball back. First-year SSDM Owen Guest stripped his attacker, and the Crimson defense was able to successfully clear the ball to the attacking end. Sophomore middie Owen Gaffney was the first Crimson offensive player to shoot in OT, with a rip from the outside. However, his shot was deflected by the goalie, and in the scrum for possession, the loose ball went out of bounds. The referees initially called the ball in favor of Harvard, granting the Crimson possession, but the call was overturned, and Brown was able to clear the ball from its defensive endline, forcing Harvard to make a defensive stand one last time.
Brown dished the ball to McLane, and he fired off several takes that flew just high of the goal. His efforts weren’t enough to clinch the victory, and with about 45 seconds left on the clock, the Crimson used its final timeout to once again draw up a play to try and seal its victory. In a role reversal, Malone hit a flying King on the doorstep, and King was able to eek the ball past the goalie, sealing the win.
“I think we fought till the end. We went on some runs and they went on some runs, props to them they’re a great team, but our guys have no quit in them,” Loring praised. “I’m really proud of the way we played down the stretch and the way we capped it off.”
The closeness throughout the entire game proves how competitive the Ivy league has become.
“What made it dramatic was that we had the lead for pretty much the whole game until about two minutes left to go. We couldn’t shake them, and I think that’s a testament to Brown’s ability and how well they’re coached,” noted Byrne. “When you're in a game like that, that feels like a tennis match or a boxing match, it’s sometimes who can hit the winner or who can land the last punch, and we were fortunate to land the last punch.”
Going into the BU game, there is a lot that the Harvard team will hope to improve on. Coach Byrne praised his team’s ability to better dissect a zone between the Michigan and Brown games, but had areas that he and the squad will hope to focus on this week.
“BU is super aggressive, super creative offensively, and I think we are going to take a lot of lessons on how to play unsettled defense, how to play one-on-one defense, and how to support, because we didn’t do very well with that today,” Coach Byrne stated.
While BU is an out-of-conference game, each contest exposes both highs and lows for the squad, and so the team will look to perform better and better with each game.
“I think that every game is going to be a dog fight, and with the Ivy League being super competitive, we have to really just play hard and play to the last whistle,” Muller said.
The Harvard Crimson take on the Boston University Terriers Tuesday at 7pm on Nickerson Field at BU. The game will be streamed on ESPN+.
–Staff writer Katharine Forst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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